Like Willows By Flowing Streams
who formed you in the womb and will help you…
For I will pour water on the thirsty land
and streams on the dry ground
I will pour my spirit upon your descendents,
and my blessings on your offspring.
They shall spring up like a green tamarisk,
like willows by flowing streams.
–from Isaiah 44: 1-4
I can’t remember my life making more sense than when I had a nursing newborn. What I needed to do with my time was so clear—feed the baby, change the baby, help the baby get to sleep, listen for the baby, and repeat. My body was tuned into my babies when they were so new. I remember feeling in the early days of my first born’s life like a wild animal—I could smell him as I got closer to him. When someone took him out of my room when I was asleep to let me rest, I would follow his scent to get to him. I felt myself lean toward where my baby was—needing to find the right proximity to feel a real peace. I loved those early days, even with the pain and discomfort of getting used to nursing, even with having to live on only short snatches of sleep. Life made sense and I felt pulled in a singular direction. I knew what I needed to do, what I had to do.
It didn’t take long before I started feeling pulled in other directions—can’t remember exactly when it happened, but I started to feel restless, like I was disappearing from the radar screen of people who “really do things.” The narrative of a productive human being in American society is deeply internalized I guess. Even with how much I loved mothering my babies, I felt like there was something else I needed (and sometimes wanted) to be doing to be living an “important” life.
Any mother will tell you, finding a way to live into those competing pushes and pulls is a daily practice. And the sometimes dissonant voices of shoulds and desires and needs meld together into a life of fragments that get attention here and there as situations allow. I am not sure this is any different than life in general, but motherhood just embodies it with an intensity that can’t be denied. Overlay varying cultural expectations, economic constraints, and the ways each of us were cared for as children and we get an infinite variation in how experiences of motherhood imprint people and communities and the culture at large.
Right now, my kids are sleeping. This is a peaceful time if I have the reserves to wake up in time to enjoy some of it. When I string together days and weeks in which I don’t get any time like this I feel how raw my nerves are and how hungry I am for some place to stretch myself out and stand down for a little while. I love my children. And when they wake up I am always delighted to see them and hear about their dreams and see their tousled hair. I am thankful to have something in the house to feed them for breakfast. I am thankful they still seem drawn to me for a hug and a kiss to get the day started. Life won’t always have that sweet little beginning to a familiar kind of day.
I need to enjoy that—those sweet moments that add up to my familiar. And I need to find those times to stretch out and stand down, too. And, I pray that somehow in loving my children and in loving the other work I do that the Divine Love that created me finds its purposefulness worth the effort. God’s tender and persistent creative love may just lean into those moments humming an ethereal melody that finds its way into a mothers heart when life makes sense.